The Catholic Historical Review 89.3 (2003) 574-576
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Bellitto, Christopher M. The General Councils: A History of the Twenty-One Church Councils from Nicaea to Vatican II. (Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press. 2002. Pp. xi, 156. $16.95 softcover.)
In this compact volume, Christopher Bellitto offers a concise overview of the twenty-one general councils from Nicaea in 325 to the Second Vatican Council in the 1960's. Covering such a vast amount of time, as well as the transformation of a general council's role from chiefly defining articles of faith to one of determining normative behavior, would be an enormous feat in a volume of several thousand pages. The book is divided into four sections: councils in the first millennium, councils in the Middle Ages, councils in the reformation era, and councils in the modern age. In part one, Bellitto addresses the work of the early councils in establishing doctrine and providing disciplinary norms, as well the Church's efforts to adapt to the political changes following the collapse of the Roman empire and the rise of the Carolingians. In part two, he turns to the four Lateran and the Vienne councils, focusing, not surprisingly, on the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215, whose dispensations on the sacramental life for the laity effectively set the norms that would last to Trent and even beyond. In part three, he turns to the important efforts of the Councils of Constance and Florence-Ferrara, which sought, if ultimately unsuccessfully, to come to terms with the problems of dissent that were becoming ever more vocal in the run up to Lateran V and the Council of Trent. In the final part, Bellitto explores the establishment of the doctrine of papal infallibility at the First Vatican Council, before turning to the fundamental renewal of the Church that was the work of the Second Vatican Council. Suggestions for further reading accompany each section. While the discussion of individual councils inevitably remains brief, Bellitto provides a clear introduction to the ways in which these varied general councils sought to bridge the gap between a Church that simultaneously was an otherworldly entity and an institution requiring norms and procedures to operate in a changing world.
Keele University, England [End Page 574]
Schrems, Suzanne H. Uncommon Women, Unmarked Trails: The Courageous Journey of Catholic Missionary Sisters in Frontier Montana. (Norman, Oklahoma: Horse Creek Publications. 2003. Pp. viii, 118. $l5.95 paperback.)
In her introduction to Uncommon Women, Unmarked Trails, Suzanne Schrems rightly asserts that stories of Jesuit priests dominate the history of Northwestern missions and that the critical role of Catholic sisters has been minimized historically or overlooked altogether. Schrems seeks to remedy this lacuna in the literature by focusing on two orders of women religious, the Sisters of Providence and the Ursulines, and their significant contributions to education and healthcare in frontier Montana. Uncommon Women details the financial and cultural struggles that these sisters faced as they worked toward their common goals of teaching Native American children and caring for Montana's sick and needy. Schrems's account of the sisters and their work at the missions offers an intriguing insight into the daily lives of these pioneering women. She thoughtfully describes the arduous process by which the sisters established viable religious communities in an environment fraught with unexpected dangers and, often, resistance from the very Native American populations that the women sought to serve.
While Uncommon Women accomplishes its goal of illuminating the early history of missionary sisters in Montana, several flaws diminish the work's overall effectiveness. Most serious is the lack of documentation; footnotes and endnotes are conspicuously absent. This deficit will limit the work's value to future researchers. Another problem stems from the author's decision to devote the first half of the work to the Sisters of Providence and the remaining chapters to the Ursulines. Each order's history is presented in relative isolation, and little effort is made to analyze the experiences of these orders in relation to each other—...